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Where wealth and community come together: Meet India's rich and responsible – Qrius

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You may know a great deal about Ajay Piramal now that his son has wed into one of the richest families in India. But well before his splash on the tabloid pages, Piramal helmed a successful drinking water campaign in the parched village of Peeth, Rajasthan. The Saravajal Kendra, which the Piramal Foundation powered, showcased an excellent example of corporate social responsibility (CSR) done right, an oft-forgotten aspect of wealth accumulation.

After all, who remembers Infosys’s Nandan and Rohini Nikelani, India’s very own Bill and Melinda Gates, for their contributions in the field of technology, education, and health and sanitation services?

Like most billionaire philanthropists, the duo had pledged in September 2017 to donate 50% of their wealth under the Giving Pledge. “Wealth comes with a huge responsibility and is best deployed for the larger public interest,” they’d said.

Wirpo chairman Azim Premji, who features in both Forbes’ and Hurun Global lists of wealthiest people in the world as well as Bloomberg’s list of global billionaires, recently also pledged shares worth $7.5 billion for the Azim Premji Foundation, thus earning the tag of “corporate Robin Hood”.

This irrevocable renunciation of the shares brings the total value of his philanthropic endowment corpus to $21 billion, which is 67% of Wipro’s economic ownership.

The foundation will scale up significantly in the coming years, it said in a statement. The team working in education will scale from the current 1,600 people and grant-making activities will triple. The Bengaluru-based university will expand to 5,000 students with over 400 faculty members. The foundation intends to set up another university in northern India.

How responsible are our rich?

Earlier this month, Qrius had reported about the 10 Indian men (yes, the gender gap persists among the privileged as well) with special emphasis on Mukesh Ambani’s philanthropic ventures. He had, after all, broken into the global top 10.

Here’s your primer on them and how generously, sustainably, and consciously they earmark their profits and revenue for the greater good. And also why Gautam Adani’s CSR policy is Schrodinger’s cat.

Mukesh Ambani

Philanthropic initiatives for the wealthiest are not only a means for them to give back to the society, but also to play a leading force in building communities. Well-conceptualised CSR initiatives enable corporations to minimise the environmental or socio-economic damage their operations sometimes cause, while others help to translate their core values into tangible reality.

Dhirubai Ambani was a classic example of the former.

Reliance Industries Limites has emerged as a focused and highly integrated petroleum and petrochemicals challenger to the global heavyweights, but community building has always been a focus area.

To provide impetus to various developmental initiatives of RIL, his elder son Mukesh Ambani set up Reliance Foundation in 2010 as an expression of its vision towards sustainable growth in India.

RIL has since contributed to the nation’s well-being by introducing sustainable measures and providing assistance to institutions and welfare organisations across India, benefitting 15 million people in over 13,500 villages.

Last month, the annual Hurun India Philanthropy List 2018 ranked Ambani number 1.

A large number of RIL’s initiatives focus on developing community infrastructure, like community halls, schools, and health centres, and protecting the environment, including water conservation. It also organises skill development and income-generating programmes for local communities and women and youth empowerment drives. Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and the ’eminent’ Jio University are some of Ambani’s famous pet projects.

S P Hinduja

S P Hinduja, with a net worth of $21 billion, oversees a bunch of rural development projects; these aim to enhance the livelihood of agricultural communities through improved and indigenous farming practices, support to landless and women-led families, help in income generation and development of model villages, provide holistic health and sanitation facilities, water resource management, and upgrade educational facilities, among others.

There are several scholarships and grants as well, for aspirants of professional courses, children of needy widows and for disadvantaged children; for example, the Nanhi Kali initiative, which sponsors 30 children, and the World Vision programme, which has adopted 25 boys and girls for their education.

L N Mittal

Arcelor’s Lakshmi Narayan Mittal is engaged in various philanthropic activities for relief‚ rehabilitation‚ socio-economic development, and education; the Lakshmi & Usha Mittal Foundation coordinates these. The foundation’s thrust is in the area of education—it has set up LNM IIT in Jaipur in collaboration with the Government of Rajasthan; the “Usha Mittal Institute of Technology” for women is a work in progress; the foundation has also contributed handsomely to the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad.

Mittal’s efforts towards rehabilitation after natural calamities are of note; the foundation helped to build a new hospital in Kutch (Gujrat) after the devastating earthquake. It also contributed a large amount to the drought relief fund of the Chief Minister of Rajasthan and gave a big grant for rehabilitation of people in tsunami-affected areas of South India.

Dilip Shanghvi

Initiatives by Sun Pharma’s Dilip Shanghvi ($9.5 billion) range from exterminating diseases, namely malaria and diarrhoea, to improving maternal health and combating HIV/Aids. The group set up Ranbaxy Rural Development Trust in 1978 when “Health for All” was adopted as a national objective in India.

The group also operates the Sun Pharma Science Foundation, which “is dedicated to promoting scientific endeavours in the country by encouraging and rewarding excellence in the medical and pharmaceutical sciences and channeling national and international knowledge and expertise in all subjects connected with the treatment of diseases afflicting humanity”.

Uday Kotak

Kotak Mahindra’s Uday Kotak ($11 billion) founded the Kotak Education Foundation, which empowers young people from underprivileged families through various education-based initiatives, and equips them with employable skills, so that they can grow and live with dignity.

It offers livelihood support to children and youths from Below Poverty Line families in Mumbai, Thane, and Raigad regions.

Gautam Adani

Gujarati industrialist Gautam Adani ($9.9 billion), who is responsible, at least on paper, for most the renewable energy revolution in the state, continues to get loans and benefits from the government despite Adani Power Limited, its thermal power subsidiary, being on the brink of bankruptcy. It recently also won the bids to build five airports.

An alarming facet of its CSR initiative has recently come to light with reports claiming that over 1,000 children died at an Adani Foundation-run hospital in Gujarat. According to the hospital’s website, it is an initiative of Gujarat Adani Institute of Medical Sciences, a public-private partnership between Adani Education and Research Foundation and the state government. This proves that CSR initiatives can also fail, especially when they exist as an eyewash.

Uber-rich Indians, with a net worth of over $50 million and accounting for 58% of the national income, are less charitable than they were five years ago, Mint reported last week, with Premji being the exception.

On a global scale too, the world’s top 50 donors on The Chronicle of Philanthropy list reportedly donated roughly 50% less than the previous year. Overall donations from world’s top 50 donors dropped from $14.7 billion in 2017 to $7.8 billion in 2018.

Read more about philanthropic ventures of the global rich here.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.